Trematodes amplify asexually in their snail intermediate hosts, resulting in the potential release of hundreds to thousands of free-living cercariae per day for the life of the snail. The high number of cercariae released into the environment undoubtedly increases the probability of transmission. Although many individual cercariae successfully infect another host in their life cycle, most fail. Factors that prevent successful transmission of cercariae are poorly understood. Microcrustaceans and fish have been observed to eat cercariae of some species, although the possibility that predation represents a significant source of mortality for cercariae has been largely unexplored. We tested the cercariophagic activity of several freshwater invertebrates on Ribeiroia ondatrae, a trematode that causes limb deformities in amphibians. Individuals of potential predators were placed into wells of multiwell plates with 10-15 cercariae, and numbers of cercariae remaining over time were recorded and compared with numbers in control wells that contained no predators. Of the species tested, Hydra sp., damselfly (Odonata, Coenagrionidae) larvae, dragonfly (Odonata, Libellulidae), larvae, and copepods (Cyclopoida) consumed cercariae. In some cases, 80-90% of the cercariae offered to damselfly and dragonfly larvae were consumed within 10 min. In most cases, predators continued to consume cercariae at the same average rates when offered cercariae together with individuals of an alternate prey item. Hydra sp. ate fewer cercariae in these trials. Our findings suggest the need for field and laboratory studies to further explore the effects of predators on transmission of R. ondatrae to amphibian larvae. In addition, the results suggest that conservation of the biodiversity and numbers of aquatic predators may limit adverse impacts of trematode infections in vertebrate hosts.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics